For a long time, Primatene Mist was the go-to relief for asthma sufferers in the midst of an attack. Known as one of many “rescue inhalers,” Primatene was used during critical moments to deliver epinephrine that opened airways and enabled breathing.
But as of this year, Primatene, the only asthma inhaler that was available over-the-counter, was taken off the market.
The problem wasn’t Primatene’s drug safety or efficiency; it was the adverse effects its spray propellant had on the ozone layer. After its departure, many asthma patients felt cast adrift from the only relief they could get without a prescription. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, lung doctors and asthma specialists said Primatene wasn’t a good option for asthma patients anyway.
Asthma, these experts believe, is controlled more effectively with prescription medication than any over-the-counter product. “Primatene Mist does not treat asthma – it treats symptoms that can come from asthma,” Dr. Kyle Hogarth, medical director of the pulmonary rehabilitation program at the University of Chicago Medical Center, told the L.A. Times.
He said that treating only the symptoms of asthma ignores the fact that repeated attacks can damage the lungs permanently. So the best asthma care prevents attacks, it doesn’t just react to them. That requires daily medication, such as inhaled corticosteroids, which prevent inflammation in the airways. The use of rescue inhalers, Hogarth said, should be limited to twice weekly.
Some asthma patients use prescription inhalers whose active ingredient is albuterol instead of epinephrine, and is delivered via a different propellant. Like Primatene Mist, they’re used at the onset of an attack only to relieve symptoms. But they require more priming, have a different cleaning regimen, taste different and offer a less powerful puff.
Armstrong Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures Primatene Mist, is developing its product with the more environmentally friendly propellant, but it will continue to use epinephrine as the active ingredient.
But what if you’re one of the estimated 3 million Primatene users who aren’t sure now what to do, especially if you lack insurance coverage or the financial means to get the more expensive prescription drugs?
Community health centers often have sliding-scale payment options for patients requiring diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care. Your doctor and pharmacist are resources for medication assistance as well, and you can find prescription drug coupons online if you search by the drug or manufacturer’s name. Large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Costco often offer deep drug discounts.
Many pharmaceutical companies also offer patient assistance programs. For more information about asthma and medication assistance programs, contact: